Baghdad: Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) executed dozens of people from Iraq’s Yazidi minority who refused to embrace Islam, witnesses said.
Witnesses told a news agency that 67 young men were shot dead by the militants in the northern town of Sinjar, which the militants stormed on Sunday, driving off hundreds of families who had been residing in the area.
The men had been detained by the Isil militants since Sunday, witnesses added.
The Kurdish Bas News Agency reported that 88 Yazidis had been executed.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people, many of them from Iraq’s Yazidi and Turkmen minorities, are in dire need of help after fleeing the militant takeover of Sinjar, rights activists said on Monday.
According to the UN, up to 200,000 people fled the northern town when the Isil militants moved in and Kurdish peshmerga troops retreated on Sunday.
Many were Yazidis, a small community that follows a 4,000-year-old faith and has been repeatedly targeted by militants who call them “devil-worshippers” because of their unique beliefs and practices.
Sinjar was the main hub of the Yazidis in Iraq but the town of 300,000 fell to the Isil, which took the main northern city of Mosul on June 10 and this weekend secured much of its hinterland.
“What Daash [the Arabic acronym by which Isil is known] has done against the Yazidis in Sinjar is ethnic cleansing,” said Khodhr Domli, a Yazidi rights activist based in the Kurdish city of Dohuk.
“There are still thousands of people heading to Dohuk but thousands are also trapped in the Sinjar mountains,” he told AFP.
“There are old people among them, children. They have no food nor water, some have died already.”
“We last we had contact with them was last night [Sunday] but this morning we have not been able to make contact,” Domli said. “They face a double threat: nature and Daash.”
As Kurdish fighters struggled to hold back the onslaught of the militants on Iraq’s north, some 40,000 Yazidis fled the northern towns of Sinjar and Zumar, said Jawhar Ali Begg, a spokesperson for the community.
“Thousands of Yazidi people have been killed,” he said. The militant group gave the Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism, an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death, Begg added.
The United Nations said last month that more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the violence since June, bringing the total this year to 1.4 million, including more than 230,000 Syrian refugees.
Sinjar was also home to hundreds of families from the Turkmen Shiite minority who had fled to the nearby city of Tal Afar in the early days of the militant offensive nearly two months ago.
Ali Al Bayati, a Turkmen rights activist, said he was receiving very alarming reports about the people who had been forced back on the road on Sunday.
“Out of the 500 Turkmen Shiite families who had to flee, about 100 or more were able to reach a cement factory located about 15 kilometres outside Sinjar,” he said.
“They are still there and have nothing. They need help,” he said.
Bayati said that a larger group fleeing the raids was intercepted by Isil militants, who executed many of the men.
“The terrorists took the women as slaves and are now holding a large group at Tal Afar airport.”
The UN on Sunday expressed “grave concerns for the physical safety of these civilians” who fled Sinjar.
There was no information immediately available on the fate of the displaced from Iraq’s federal government or the autonomous Kurdish government.
What sets the Yazidis apart
The Yazidi minority faces a struggle for survival in Iraq after their bastion Sinjar was taken over by Isil militants on Sunday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. The existence of the small Kurdish-speaking community on its ancestral land is now critically endangered. Here are a few facts about the Yazidis:
The largest community is in Iraq — 600,000 people according to the highest Yazidi estimates, but barely 100,000 according to others — while a few thousand are also found in Syria, Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. They are mostly impoverished farmers and herders.
They follow a faith born in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. It is rooted in Zoroastrianism but has over time blended in elements of Islam and Christianity. Yazidis pray to God three times a day facing the sun and worship his seven angels — the most important of those angels being Melek Taus, or peacock angel.
Yazidis discourage marriage outside the community and even across their caste system. Their unique beliefs and practices — some are known to refrain from eating lettuce and wearing the colour blue — have often been misconstrued as satanic. Muslims consider the peacock a demon figure and refer to Yazidis as devil-worshippers.
As non-Arab and non-Muslim Iraqis, they have long been one of the country’s most vulnerable minorities. Persecution under Saddam Hussain forced thousands of families to flee the country. Germany is home to the largest community abroad, with an estimated 40,000.
Massive truck bombs almost entirely destroyed two small Yazidi villages in northern Iraq on August 14, 2007. More than 400 people died in the explosions, the single deadliest attack since the 2003 US-led invasion.